4 Things No One Tells You About Finding A Pillow For Better Sleep

When it comes to your bed, the mattress typically gets the credit for transforming your sleep. And understandably so. Sleep on a terrible mattress, and you’re left tossing and turning, or worse ― with back pain for days.

A bevy of young brands are making waves in the sleep world by offering convenient and affordable “bed-in-a-box” mattresses. What was once the realm of gimmicks and sleaze, these companies offer candor and a cool factor.

But let’s not forget about the pillow. 91% of Americans believe a comfortable pillow is essential to quality sleep ― just as many as those who say that about a mattress. Yet, it’s common to see consumers who’ve spent hundreds on a new mattress outfit their bed with the 2-for-$20 pillow deal.

Many of us have slept in a hotel bed on a pillow that feels amazing. Maybe it has the perfect plump. Or supports our neck just right. Yet too often, we go back to our bed’s same old pillows that went flat months ago.

If you think all pillows are the same, I invite you to discover how a comfy pillow can upgrade your sleep quality tonight. For less than the cost of a nice dinner out or new running shoes, you could be sleeping on a pillow that makes bedtime more restful night after night.

But finding that comfy pillow can be daunting in the sea of pillows you find in bins at department stores. The signage is sparse. You’re squishing pillows through plastic. Or awkwardly resting your head on the pillow while standing up.

While pillows are seemingly simple things, the material used, the way it’s constructed and how it’s sourced can make a huge difference in support. To increase your chances of finding your comfiest pillow before you buy, consider a few things:

1. Sleep experts’ advice about “the best pillow” is only a start

Medical studies on pillow comfort have been relatively limited. Often the research (like this example) includes a narrow range of pillow designs studied with a limited number of sleepers. Yet, in reality, there are hundreds of pillow options available and a broad variation in sleepers’ bodies and sleep styles.

If you ask sleep specialists how to choose a pillow, you’ll be advised to find one that puts your head into neutral alignment with your spine based on sleep position ― meaning a pillow that won’t push your head too far forward or back if you’re back, stomach or side sleeping. But most sleep docs acknowledge that subjective factors often determine whether or not you like a pillow. Like how fluffy or firm it is. If it’s hypoallergenic. Or breathable and cool. Scrunchable. All-natural. How it smells. Even how it sounds. And the list goes on.

Pillow Buying Tip: Consider other factors besides how a pillow fits your sleep position. With a little digging, you might be surprised to see how much variety is out there and how these qualities can make a difference.

2. You can invest in pillows to keep for years ― without the “gross” factor

If your pillows are stained and yellowed, it’s definitely time to get new pillows. Some sleep experts advise changing your pillow after 12-18 months, and some even suggest every 6 months. This can be costly and wasteful. Is buying a new pillow this often really necessary?

The reasons why that advice is given is because your pillow can accumulate dirt, oils, dust mites and other icky things over time. These things are often harmless to our health, although dust mites in particular may exacerbate allergies for some people. They also break down the fill in your pillow, causing it to lose support.

However, by using a pillow protector, you can provide a washable barrier to the things that break down your pillows. Also quality materials of pillows have either fill or covers that can be cleaned and hold their support better with use. With proper care, you can keep these types of high quality pillows for years, making them far more economical.

Pillow Buying Tip: Select pillow with durable fills or covers that can be cleaned, and use a pillow protector. Consider a pillow with a fill that can be cleaned or that naturally resists the accumulation; down, latex and buckwheat are good options.

3. The best selection of pillows is likely not found where you’d typically buy them

If you’re like most people buying pillows from a retail chain or department store, chances are you’re not choosing from an ideal selection. Given these stores sell a range of products, most pillows on shelves have been mass-produced with little expertise put into the quality of the pillow.

Conversely, you can brave the mattress store where they primarily push pillows with memory foam as an add-on to your mattress purchase. Mattress store sales people like these pillows because they’re highly profitable and are easily marketed with gimmicks. But these pillows are also quite polarizing when it comes to customer satisfaction, with some finding them too hot or uncomfortable.

Pillow Buying Tip: Shop at a retailer that specializes in pillows. Rather than purchasing a pillow at a department or mattress store, consider a retailer in your local area or online that specializes in pillows. Yes, they do exist. You’ll likely find healthier, more comfortable options AND get more for your money.

4. Pillows made from the “same” material can feel vastly different from each other

Just as you find in bed sheets, products from different stores made with seemingly the same material often feel dissimilar. The difference is in how the material was cultivated, produced or constructed.

For example, many pillows are made with down and feather. But not all down is the same. Its loft, plushness and durability is a factor of multiple things, such as the climate where the bird it came from was raised, what the bird ate, how large it was, how it was treated and cleaned. The same distinctions in quality can be found for other pillow fills, from buckwheat to polyester-fill to memory foam to latex and so on.

Pillow Buying Tip: Invest in a pillow with a high-quality fill. Get enhanced comfort and more for your money by investing in a pillow with higher-quality versions of its fill. A reputable retailer will always provide detailed information on how the pillow was made or sourced.

The next time you climb into bed, consider if it’s time to upgrade your pillow. For about 1/10 the cost of a mattress, it just might be the best investment you’ll make in getting better sleep for healthier, happier nights (and days).

This post first appeared on Slumbr.com’s Bedtime Stories sleep blog.